Wednesday, July 09, 2003

29 June 2003 

*sigh* last day in Rome, with a cooling breeze blowing lightly through our apartment and a puffy white cloud floating over the rooftops.

I am so glad we have come here, and completely satisfied with how we did things: I consulted one of the travel books' seven-day itineraries and we've done most of their suggestions over nine days, which has allowed us our daily afternoon siestas, a MUST with the heat. I can't imagine pushing through that to work in another sight in the afternoon!

Church bells are ringing out their varied voices, calling the faithful to mass. That won't be us: other than Saint Peters, and the Pantheon, we did no churches, though we admired many exteriors, and I know that many more hold priceless works of art, but we have seen enough to satisfy in that regard on this trip, I believe.

Palazzo Olivia is a wonderful place to stay, to do all the walking we have done, which really has been a LOT. I've noticed some hotels on Via Nazionale and Corso Victor Emmanuele, but it's really nice to be tucked even a small way back from the mainstream, and having a kitchen and living room really has been super. I'd definitely stay here again!

We set out about 930 to see if we can cadge a boat ride, but a tour group has appropriated the 1030 boat, and we decide walking along the Tiber is nearly as good, and it is!

Huge trees overhang the sidewalk and ramparts, making a cool green corridor by the river.

We walk about two miles from the Ponte Sant'Angelo past Tiber Island, rest our feet, and walk back. Not a spectacular end to our nine days here, but I think we all feel that we are more in tune with the city and it's neighbourhoods this way.

I really haven't found it hard to understand the streets, even in our neighbourhood, which really is a warren of medieval alleys. It just seems to make sense.

We go back to Taverna del Duce for our farewell supper, and I choose the supper Mother had enjoyed so for their anniversary: grilled vegetables and scrumptious seafood and asparagus ravioli. This ristorante is out of the mainstream of walkers and diners surrounding Piazza Navona, which makes it nice and quiet.

We walk through he Piazza, teeming with life, to the Pantheon, all lit up at night, a lovely sight. The Roman nightlife is just beginning: a band plays in Piazza Navona and the sky is Maxfield Parrish blue.

Arrividerci, Roma! I miss you already!

28 June 2003 

We are down to our last two days in Rome: by Monday we shall be on that long flight home.

I will miss watching the swifts peeping as they circle around the rooftops and the light in the sky in the morning and at sunset. I won't miss the humidity though!

Later...we walked to the Capitoline hill and up the stairs between the Dioscuri to explore the Capitoline Museums (or two of them at least), repository for some of the great works of Roman and Hellene sculpture.

We were on our way up the stairs when an attendant spied our water bottles and had us turn back to check them in the cloakroom. Unencumbered, we trudged back up the stairs of the Palazzo dei Conservatori.

We were fortunate to view a new discovery now on display after its recovery and restoration: a fine bronze of a dancing satyr in the Hall of the Horatii, a beautiful work, beautifully displayed.

The gilded bronze Hercules was also excellent, and I could well imagine him installed in his fine temple in the Forum Boarium. The colossal bronze head, hand and globe of Constantine were most impressive.

Continuing on, we meet Lucius Junius Brutus, so called, one of the finest portrait bronzes in existence, likely dating to the 4th or 3rd century BCE.

In the Hall of the Geese (ducks really, but who's counting) stands the Lupa Capitolina, Mother of Rome personified, and absolutely wonderful experience to see and appreciate.

Too many great statues to fully comprehend, I'll just mention the lovely Julia Flavia with her elegant coif, the dramatic "Dying Gaul," Cicero holding court in the room of the Philosophers in the fullness of his power, and Marcus Aurelius astride his horse, both beautifully restored after millennia in the elements. I am so glad we went to the museum, it is not to be missed!

We must have spent a good 2 1/2 hours there, for it is nearly noon as we walk back towards the Palazzo. Mother points out the Gran Cafe de Leon not far from the Area Sacra and the supermercato, so we step inside for an air-conditioned lunch and drama: the waiter drives a young worker into the kitchen and they shout and scream at each other behind closed doors, while we try to guess at what's going on, will murder be done before we get our bill?

Better drama is in store later on in the evening: we go to the Opera! We have previously reserved tickets through Context Rome for the six PM showing of "La Boheme" at Teatro dell'Opera and taxi'd there to save our feet for the walk home.

The building was either built or restored by Benito Mussolini in 1928 (he gives himself second billing below King Victor Emmanuele II) but the Opera house is designed as much for the audience to see each other as it is to see the opera.

During each act we either stand or sit ourselves on the backs of our chairs to see and hear a wonderful production -- singing and sets were excellent! Pity the poor actors in their costumes though: it was hot!

After the opera, we walk down Via Nazionale past the Markets of Trajan all lit up to dream of Mimi and Parisian snow.

27 June 2003 

I'm falling down on the job: I have let an entire day and a half of fun go by unreported!

Yesterday Mother and I walked to Campo di Fiori for "pane, verdura et frutti" to make up a picnic, and later I walked out on my own to Via di Rinascimento for the soaps my Rotary buddy requested. After these purchases were made I kept on going and eventually wound up at the column of Marcus Aurelius on Via del Corso. On my way back I stopped for tea and prosciutto at the supermercato.

Just a few steps from the store a young Italian man asks me if there is a supermercato nearby and I was able to answer him -- most satisfying!

Back home, Mother makes us really good omelettes for lunch, and we rest in the heat of the day until 230 -- time to get up and catch a cab for the Domus Aurea.

The cab driver zips us right over and, with the confirmation number I received from Context Rome, we obtained our tickets.

The English tour starts at 320; we wait quietly in the shade, admiring the great retaining walls of the baths of Trajan and browsing through some of the books for sale.

Right at 320, our guide appears and we enter the cool, shady arms of Trajan's massive retaining walls built out from the Domus Aurea to support his thermae.

After a bit of an explanation and orientation, she leads us down into the Golden House itself, now dark and cool underhill.

This sole surviving wing of a palace Nero may never have used much is all that remains of a series of structures, parks and lakes that may have covered over 80 hectares from the Palatine to the Oppian hill and the valley in between. Nero may not have started the great fire that destroyed this part of the city, but he most certainly profited from it, to his successor's chagrin.

These remains of the Domus Aurea are primarily entertainment rooms: a series of porticoes and peristyles, surrounded by well over a hundred triclinia or dining rooms.

Once they were open to the southern sun, but after Trajan built over the wing and filled in all the rooms with earth, they were forgotten until the 17th century.

There are beautiful drawings from that time of the elegant fourth-style frescoes that once covered the upper parts of the walls and ceilings, but many are crumbling away due to the humidity, as the back walls are built right into the Oppian Hill.

We wandered through those rooms that are still safe to visit, marveling at the scope of the project.

Nothing I can say quite does justice to the mystery, the loneliness and forgotten majesty of these rooms, and all too soon we must retrace our steps from the Octagonal Room, its oculus obscured by scaffolding erected, I suppose, for restoration.

Out of the cool, back to the heat, we walk over the Parco Oppio above the Domus Aurea and inspect the ruins of the Baths of Trajan before turning our feet towards home.

Later, showered and dressed, we go out in search of a suitable place to celebrate my parent's anniversary and find a great meal not far from home at the Taverna del Duce, a great Sicilian-style ristorante. Wonderful seafood fettuccini, eaten while the sun sets on Rome!

We woke up early Friday morning to get ready for our day-trip to Ostia Antica.

I previously made arrangements with Paul at Context Rome for a car to pick our picnic lunch and us up at 830 in front of the Palazzo for the 24-kilometer drive to Ostia. The young cab driver, music blaring, map propped up on the steering wheel, did just fine, and we are dropped at the gates with the promise that another cab will meet us at 1230 with a "wooman" driver.

This allows us three wonderful hours to wander the not-at-all crowded streets of Ostia Antica to admire the many phases of its history, from Republican temples and the castrum walls to the great horrea or warehouses, baths, and the imposing Capitolium.

We refreshed ourselves mid-morning with a delicious, tart lemon gelato, and I bought a guidebook to the ruins to fill in what our general tour books didn't mention.

Particularly interesting was the Mithraeum of the Spheres, the wonderful theatre, the thermopolium where residents could pop down from their Insulae, or apartments for a meal, and the beautiful mosaic floors in the baths of Neptune.

My stepfather finds us a lovely arbor to picnic in, just outside the fine museum. Seated at the marble table in a bower Titania would have felt at home in, our sandwiches, cherries and tomatoes seem like a Bacchanalian feast!

There is a small museum nearby, well worth a visit, with many of the sculptures that adorned Ostia's public and private spaces. My favourite is the lovely "Cupid and Psyche," but there are other fine examples of Imperial portraiture: Trajan, Septimius Severus and Julia Domna, plus many of Ostia's citizenry.

After another peek at the Thermopolium (loud German kids kept us at back the first time), we had to retrace our steps up the Decumanius Maximus to meet our pick-up, a very nice woman indeed, who asks us in Italian how our walk was, and points out some of the sights as we drive back to the city. Una brava donna!

I reprise the saltimbocca for supper, this time without breadcrumbs, braising the cutlets in wine, It's all right, but I prefer my first attempt, cooked in loads of butter. Mmmm.

I also make a salad from those divine cherry tomatoes and basil thrown in by the merchant at Campo di Fiori, marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Delicious!

We also eat up the mounds of young green beans along with the last of the gigantic mushrooms. It has been fun to cook here!

25 June 2003 

An early morning run to Campo Di Fiori for veal, delicate young green beans and fresh sage: I plan to whip up saltimboca tonight.

All sorts of lovely produce to snap up, if we weren't mindful of the time we spend here: we leave soon to catch a taxi for Villa Borghese, and I hope we don't get the same taxi driver who told us to walk to the colosseum!!

Later: a young man sped us to the gates of the Borghese and we had not long to wait before the box office opened. We checked our bags and poked around the gift shop for a bit, then the Murphys did indeed show up, and Sue told me about their adventures finding a restaurant last night. After all the walking we had done in the Vatican, they walked ANOTHER three hours!

Frank had his class of students as well, and at 0900 we all trooped up the stairs to the third floor to view the many spectacular paintings.

The Murphys and I lostened in on Frank's lecture to his students, particularly during his talks about Titian's "Sacred and Profane Lo=ve," otherwise, we just wandered among the beautiful rooms of Cardinal Scipione Borghese's luxirious villa.

Sue told me that ceiling painting is now all the rage in the Chicago area. I wonder how incongruous neoclassical frescoes might appear in new constructions.

After our allotted time, 30 minutes, we descend one floor to the sculptures, walking straight into the room with Bernini's tour de force, "the Rape of Proserpine." Pluto's fingers sink into Proserpine's tender thigh while Cerberus nips at her heels. Marvelous!

Ringing the perimiter are busts of emperors, ranging from Augustus through Vitellius, their porphyry heads and varigated marble torsos carved in the Renaissance era.

Next comes Apollo and Daphne, equally breathtaking, their marble draperies and leaves carved so thin as to be translucent.

I found myself looking away and inspecting some of the very fine Roman sclulptures ever so often to rest my mind, before turning back to take another look at Bernini's masterpiece.

His "David" is also well worth meeting, rendered as he winds up his sling to bash Goliath, his face, modelled on Bernini's own, pinched in determination.

The old ballroom is filled from floor to ceiling, quite literally, with Roman works, from the beautiful mosaics depicting gladiatorial combats to the fine sculptures and massive heads of Isis, a wonderful sculpture of Augustus "capite velato," with head covered, performing priestly rites.

The frescoed ceiling overhead is staggering: I want to lie on my back in the middle of the room and just take it in, from Jupiter receiving Romulus into Olympus, to the takes of gods and mortals flying around the perimeter.

Caravaggio's paintings are not to be missed either, ringing the room with a wonderful Roman satyr. His "Dionysus" is quite a departure from the norm: a sickly, alcoholic young man said to be Caravaggio himself.
An early morning run to Campo di Fiori for veal, beautiful young, tender green beans and sage: I plan to whip up saltimbocca tonight.

All sorts of lovely produce to snap up if we weren't mindful of the time: we leave soon to catch a taxi for Villa Borghese -- and I hope we don't get the same taxi driver who told us to walk to the Colosseum!!

Later... a young man sped us to the gates of the Borghese and we had not too long to wait before the box office opened. We checked our bags and poked around the gift shop for a bit, then the Murphy family did indeed show up, and Sue told me about their adventures finding a restaurant last night: after all the walking we did, they walked ANOTHER three hours and wound up at the first restaurant they were thinking of going.

Frank had his class as well, and at 900 we all trooped up the stairs to the third floor to view the paintings.

The Murphy’s and I listened in on Frank's lecture, particularly during his talks about Titan's "Sacred and Profane Love," otherwise, we just wandered around the beautiful rooms of Cardinal Scipione Borghese's luxury villa.

As we admired the lavish frescoes on wall and ceiling, Sue told me that ceiling painting is all the rage in the Chicago are just now.

After our allotted 30 minutes with the paintings, we descended one floor to the sculptures, walking straight into the room with Bernini's incredible "Rape of Proserpine," Uncle Pluto's fingers sinking deeply into Proserpine's tender thighs, while three-headed Cerberus nips at her heels.

Ringing the perimeter of the room are busts of emperors, from Augustus through Vitellius, with porphyry heads and varicoloured marble garments.

Next come Apollo and Daphne, equally breathtaking, the marble draperies and leaves carved so thinly as to be translucent.

I found myself looking away and inspecting some of the very fine Roman sculptures ever so often to rest my mind, before turning back to take another look at Bernini's masterpiece.

His "David" is also well worth meeting, rendered as he winds up his sling to bash Goliath, his face, modeled on Bernini's own, pinched in determination.

The old ballroom is filled from floor to ceiling, quite literally, with Roman works, from the beautiful mosaics depicting gladiatorial combats to the fine sculptures and massive heads of Isis, a wonderful sculpture of Augustus "capite velato," with head covered, performing priestly rites.

The frescoed ceiling overhead is staggering: I want to lie on my back in the middle of the room and just take it in, from Jupiter receiving Romulus into Olympus, to the takes of gods and mortals flying around the perimeter.

Caravaggio's paintings are not to be missed either, ringing the room with a wonderful Roman satyr. His "Dionysus" is quite a departure from the norm: a sickly, alcoholic young man said to be Caravaggio himself.

A wonderful morning indeed!

We walked through the forested gardens, dark and deep, down to the Pincian hill, by this time on a hunt for lunch.

Mother had heard of a restaurant with a view in the Pincian gardens, but we never saw it, though looking down on Piazza del Popolo was very satisfying.

Downhill, we spotted a restaurant but it was closed??? On a Wednesday??! On to the Trinita del Monte, overlooking the Spanish steps, and down.

Well, we have come this far, we might as well see the Trevi fountain too -- hawkers and all -- and enjoy all that water cascading from the terminus of the Aqua Virgo.

We found lunch at last near the Temple of the Deified Hadrian on Via Partini and dodged the sun crossing over the yardarm while enjoying seafood salad and insalata primavera.

On the home stretch, we visited the Pantheon again for my stepfather's sake, though selfish motivations are to be expected from me. We then stopped at our local supermercato for more groceries. And now, at last, a nap!


If more countries, let's say the US, operated on the siesta principle, people would be less crabby when it's hot!

We woke up around 7 PM and I started chopping up beans for supper, making breadcrumbs and washing sage. The kitchen is small, and there is no oven, but with all the fresh produce and veal from Campo di Fiori I prepared a respectable supper, and we talked of environmental crises, civilization, evolution and Asturias until 1030. It is still hot, but the air will feel less heavy as night deepens, or a midnight cold shower could be a genuine possibility.

Statistical musings: how many people at any given hour in Rome are following after some guide carrying a scarf tied to a wand? How many gallons of water gush out from all the drinking fountains in Rome into the sewers, never to refresh a hot traveler? And how many miles have we walked in Rome since last Friday??

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

24 June 2003 

I suggested that we spend our morning walking down through the Ghetto to Tiber Island and back by way of the Theatre of Marcellus. It was lovely and cool in the shade, and we have learned to skulk along in the shadows of buildings and trees like rats.

I showed my parents the Area Sacra Argentina, along with its cats, then we sidled down Via Paganica to find the charming Turtle Fountain before following Via Portico d'Octavia to the ruins of same, in lovely condition.

Just to say we had, we crossed the Ponte Fabrizio onto Tiber Island, once home to the temple of Aesculapius, now mostly taken up with a hospital, still in keeping with its ancient purpose.

We continued downstream to a spot just across from the Forum Boarium and the temples of Lars Porsenna and Hercules, and there we were separated for many minutes by traffic, for as I dashed across the busy street, I stranded my parents on a traffic island. I feel extremely guilty, but scuttle around taking photos of these remarkably well-preserved temples, saved from being broken up for building parts by becoming churches.

Eventually my parents join me and we all rest in the shade of an orange tree and admire these two wonderful temples before walking home again by the Theatre of Marcellus, looking up at the Capitoline.

We spied some prosciutto and mozzarella sandwiches on the way home and grabbed them for lunch.

By 1215 we set out on foot once again, bound for the Vatican so I can meet my Scala Reale tour at 1 PM.

My parents leave me at the rendezvous point and I have time for one of those wonderful iced tea with peach juice. Soon our tour guide, Frank, alights from a taxi and I meet my tour partners: the Murphy family from the Chicago area and Neal and Jan, getting ready for a 200-plus mile bicycle trip up to Florence and Venice.

We all bought our tickets and started the tour in the Pinacotheca, where Frank spent some time in front of an ancient Giotto altar tryptich, discussing his early techniques, which foreshadow some of the great artworks of the Renaissance.

Moving on through fresco techniques to Raphael and Carravagio paintings and tapestries, Frank deftly set the stage for the finale, Michaelangelo's stunning restored frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, built by Pope Sixtus IV.

A tantalizing glimpse of the Roman portrait gallery (closed!! Aiiieee!) and it was up the stairs to admire the Apollo Belvedere, Laocoőn and the Hercules torso, then through the Raphael apartments to delight in the School of Athens, restored to bright beauty.

At the end of many, may steps, at last, the Sistine Chapel, with Michelangelo's frescos glowing in restored radiance. Ack! Closing time! Out we go to St Peter's nicely emptying out at this time of day, and feeling fairly intimate for so vast a space.

There was the Pieta, still with the power to touch hearts, even behind bullet-proof glass. Five o'clock mass began, and the apse filled with frankincense as the procession made its way to the altar behind the baldacchino, encrusted with the bronze robbed from the Pantheon.

We stood briefly on the porphyry disk set in the floor, the only part saved from the original Saint Peter's. It was on this spot that Charlemagne knelt, crowned Holy Roman emperor in the ninth century.

Frank has given us an extra half-hour in our excellent tour, but at last it is over. I promise to see the Murphys tomorrow at Villa Borghese, where Frank will also lead his students. We threaten to dog his steps and slip his students crib notes. He is unruffled.

The Murphys go back inside for another look, and I walk with Neal and Jan to their taxi stand, then make my footsore way home.

I react with alarm at the suggestion of walking out again to supper, so we have seconds on last night's pasta and salad. Should sleep well tonight!

23 June 2003 

The swifts are flying as usual, and watching them has become a pleasant morning ritual with a cup of Ceylon tea. Mother and I go to the market to lay in more groceries for breakfast and supper.

Later, our refrigerator is nicely full - shopping at the market is sooo easy! We met a nice young woman who was studying geology in Austria: she's here in Rome for two weeks doing research and staying with nuns, very economical!

I took a morning constitutional walk to the Area Sacra Argentina, site of a fragment of the Theatre of Pompey and three Republican temples, now labeled with letters but possibly sacred to Feronia, Fortuna Huiusce Diei (Fortune of this Day) and Juturna. The whole area may have been part of the Porticus Minucia.

After taking many photos of the present residents (many many cats) I walked on to the Campo di Fiori for a bouquet of onions, a bouquet of flowers, and a good local loaf of bread to replace the one we bought at the supermercato: too dry! too sweet!

Later... painful feet may be a cumulative result of so much walking. We crossed the Ponte Sisto again into Trastevere by a route Mother had copied from some of our travel guides. Sitting here writing with the DK guide in my hand I can see that they think Via Corsini goes through all the way to the top of the Janiculum hill (or mostly) but I can assure you that it does not!

Our plan was to walk to the top of the hill and enjoy the view. We cast around until we found Via di San Dorotea, Via Della Lungaria, and Via Corsini, but shortly after admiring the beautiful building and grounds of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, we were stopped by the Polizia or military, who would not allow us to go through.

So... we retraced our steps and started up the hill on Via Guisseppe Garibaldi, cutting over onto Via de PTA San Pancazio.

Finally we made it to Piazzale Guiseppe Garibaldi, his great statue towering over busts of many famous men who assisted him in fending off the French Army for weeks, until the vastly superior French forces overwhelmed the Italian army.

It would have been very nice indeed if there had been a gelato stand by the side of the small stand selling indifferent-looking sandwiches, but we were confident that we'd find something better downhill in the Trastevere, forgetting that

A) it was already past noon and
B) it was Monday.

We struggled to find anything open and settled at last for a miniscule tomato, fresh mozzarella and onion salads served by an unpleasant waiter in a ristorante not far from Piazza Trilusa.

We recrossed the Tiber over Ponte Sisto once again and threaded our way back through Campo do Fiori and took a long nap. We prepared a supper of pasta, mushrooms (huge mushrooms!) and onions from our stash of groceries after fiddling with the TV to get BBC news to try and find the answer to the question "how hot is it REALLY in Rome?"

Monday, July 07, 2003

22 June 2003 

After breakfasting "in" and making another ice cube for Mother (I am doing so one at a time using our plastic orange juicer, inverted) we set out at 0830 to find the Archaeobus, which travels out the Appian Way. We are thinking at this point that the first one leaves at 0900.

We arrive at Piazza Venezia: signs for the Archaeobus are hard to come by, and I ask a bus driver pulled up at an island below the Typewriter. He points out a tiny sign across the street. We cross the street to consult. Hmmm, the first departure time is scratched out, and a hand-lettered sign invites us to purchase our tickets at the green box. WHAT green box? This is not quite intuitive enough, though I do see a green-painted shack up the street. We investigate. It is closed.

I ask another bus driver when it will open. He tells me nine-thirty. Drat, an hour to kill, but there are the markets of Trajan, just across the way!

We wander over and I trot out a bit of history on Trajan: his column (being restored), the wars in Dacia, and the markets, first mega-shopping mall of the Roman empire.

This kills some time pleasantly, as does greeting the Roman milites waiting for paid photo ops and arguing pleasantly with a bookseller about why I am not going to buy any of his guidebooks.

We wander back to the green box. Bother, it is still "chiuso."

We camp in the shadow around the corner, spying now and then on the box. No-one makes a move towards the thing, perhaps a day of selling tickets cooped up in a sweltering wooden kiosk is too much to face after a Roman Saturday night?

We stroll back to the bus stop; this time to refresh ourselves from the pinecone-topped drinking fountain. We meet others wondering where in the world to buy bigliette. I tell them what little I know. We all wait for the stroke of 1000 except for my parents, who sneak back down to the shady corner in hopes of having the jump on its missing proprietor.

Then at 1000 up pulls the Archaeobus, carrying Nicoletta, our heroine. A small crowd gathers.
She tells us in English and Italian that it is better to wait five more minutes to buy our tickets from that damned green box, or wait for the 1100 bus.

My parents peek around the corner down the street, trying to catch the absent worker in the act of not showing up. I wave madly and they sprint back up the street. We consult, we three, and are on the verge of folding out of the game altogether, when the magnificent Nicoletta points us out. She recognizes my stepfather from our long vigil -- we may ride the bus and she herself will sell us the tickets. O brava donna!

Many others receive her blessings, and we all board the bus, blessedly air-conditioned. Already things look better!

We set out, we the Chosen, past the Capitoline Hill towards the Baths of Caracalla towards the Porta San Sebastiana, in antiquity known as the Aurelian Gate. It is Sunday, so in theory the Polizia are not allowing cars onto the Via Appia Antica, but our bus passes through the barrier.

We are on the Appian Way at last, the ancient road built by Censor Appius Claudius in 312 BCE, and extended clear down the boot of Italy to Brundisium (modern Brindisi) in 190 BCE.

The first part of the way is squeezed out between high walls, with no place to walk at all. Just before the tomb of Cecilia Metella the scenery starts to get interesting, with the extensive ruins of Maxentius' villa and very well-preserved circus, very well-preserved indeed!

We descend from the bus at the Capo di Bove neighbourhood, so named after the friezes of bull's heads on Cecilia Metella's tomb. The noble Nicoletta assures us that we might join her again in just above two hours' time, at 1220. We have about two hours to walk out on the ancient highway, over black basalt paving stones worn to the appearance of water ruffled in the wind from century upon century of chariot and wagon wheels.

It is a lovely day, and many walkers and bicyclists are out enjoying the spicy air and cooling breezes. A few cars and scooters brave the shock-breaking pavers as well, but generally we have the road to ourselves.

Occasionally we hope to find the children of a principessa selling lemonade or the fresca at the gates of some villa, but share out the water we are carrying in bottles instead while we ponder the remains of many tombs lining the road: a sort of billboard extolling the lives and accomplishments of the common people of Rome.

We spy a couple of women from our bus. They will keep walking, but we stop at the crossroads of Via Appia Antica and Via Erode Attico and retrace our steps to Cecilia Metella and the ruined Gothic church of San Nicola to meet Nicola by 1220. We have walked about six kilometers over bicycle trails and ancient basalt paving stones and our feet are tired. We refresh ourselves with cold water at the drinking fountain by the bus stop. These fountains are everywhere, water running away perpetually, cold and good.

Here comes the bus again -- huzzah! A bit late, but nothing if not right on time by Roman standards. We take our seats, very glad of the air conditioning, and the bus moves farther up the Appia Antica to the great ruins of the Villa of the Quintillii.

Nicoletta points these ruins out, but fails to mention -- and we do not see -- a couple of tumuli by the side of the road, said to be the resting place of the Brothers Horatii after their battle with the brothers Curii, according to Livy.

We stop for ten minutes at an archaeological park where remains of the Aqua Claudia and several other aqueducts met. Their remains march off into the campagna, majestic as ever. Back to the bus, back into Roma to the Piazza Venizia and a late lunch near Piazza Navona. Home again, another lovely, cooling shower, and a siesta that last long into the dinner hour.

Later... we finally came to around 8 PM and I prepared us a light -- very light -- supper of lettuce and melon salad, washed down (for my parents) with an excellent wine from San Gimignano, where they had hiked a couple of years before.

Then, at the fashionable hour of 10 PM, we sallied forth onto Via del Governor Vecchio, wending our way towards the Tiber, through and around crowds of nightlife-loving Romans.

We crossed the Ponte Sant'Angelo and faced Hadrian's mighty mausoleum, modeled on Augustus (and carefully not larger than his predecessor's), now the Castel Sant'Angelo.

There, the river and the bridge all lit up at night, were as pretty as ever, and we walked along the Lungotevere Castello through a large tourist market -- sort of a Saturday Market at night, filled with locals.

We admired the great Palazzo di Giustizia and recrossed the Tiber over Ponte Umberto I, walking back along Lungotevere Tor di Nona.

it is hard to believe that we waited three whole days to taste our first gelati -- at last we rectified this omission and had some at Delfine Blu on Via di Panico. Mmmmm.

Well satisfied, we continued out late-night stroll, peeking into shop windows to inspect the work of sculptors, plaster workers, and tile artisans, all along Via del Monte Giordano and Via del Vacche.

Despite having slept the afternoon away, we went to bed around midnight and slept right through until morning.

21 June 2003 

And now to fill up our day with four hours of Roma Antica, courtesy of Scala Reale, and... possibly... a siesta! We breakfasted on beautiful pastries and cappuccino at a bar just down the street on Corso Vittorio Emmanuele: some of the cornetti looked like big toasted seashells, with layer on layer of delicate pastry, filled with an unidentifiable, but delicious, filling. So far, the few phrases I have learned from the Italian language CD are working!

Later: around 3 PM on a warm Saturday afternoon in Rome...

Are there honest taxi drivers in Rome? Listen ye and be the judge for yourselves:

After breakfast we thought we'd take a taxi to the Colosseum, since we didn't know how fair it would be to walk, and we had lots of walking to look forward to on the Roma Antica tour. But the taxi driver we approached explained in rapid Italian that it was just a fifteen minute walk "avanti dritto" -- straight ahead -- so we hurried along the Corso Vittorio Emanuale to Piazza Venezia and on to the Colosseum, past "the typewriter" to the west side of the Colosseum.

Now quite hot, I sprinted up the steps to try and find our group, which, fortunately, I was able to do, TWO groups, in fact, one of which included the nice couple from yesterday's orientation walk.

Today's tour partners are Richard and Regina, from Orange County and our most excellent guide, Sarah, a former archaeology masters student, who has lived in Rome for about 1 1/2 years. Under Sarah's wing, we made our way to the Palatine Hill, one of the loveliest and most peaceful archaeological sites in Rome.

She pointed out the many peristyle gardens, baths, fountains and triclinia in the palace complex begun by Augustus and expanded by successive emperors through Domitian's time.

We stopped for a bit at the very nice museum, which included a beautiful statue of Cybele, Magna Mater. We then wandered through part of the Farnese gardens, built on top of the palace of Tiberius, saturnine adoptive heir to Augustus, and down into the Forum. Walking up the Via Sacra past the temple of Romulus (not THE Romulus, founder of Rome, but the son of co-emperor Maxentius) we admired the two precious porphyry marble columns, still in situ (popes, who coveted the purple stone for their own works broke up most of the rest.

A few steps farther rests the temple of Antoninus and Faustina (she died 20 years before Antoninus; he got second billing upon his own death) and viewed the pavements of the Basilica Aemila, now off-limits after some fool of a tourist tried to chip out one of the coins embedded in the pavement after the fire that destroyed the building in antiquity.

Good time for a bit of a break: we had ours at a nice cafe under a dense arbor and cooled off: my parents with iced coffee, and me with the fretta con pesce -- peach iced tea that would become my mainstay refresher in Rome. Richard ordered a caffé granita so rich it was nearly black. He won't be napping during siesta time!

Back into the Forum, too crowded to feel the awe I should be walking the Via Sacra and Vicus Tuscus -- perhaps in early morning or before closing time the awe of standing in the centre of the Roman empire might be enhanced. Still, the arch of Severus rears magnificently overhead, the majesty of the curia is unabated, and Saturn's columns linger, pointing skywards.

We walked back down the Via Sacra, looking with a critical eye at the Arch of Constantine, which was constructed largely from other monuments. The Arch of Titus, with its controversial depictions of the sack of Jerusalem was a far better artistic work.

Last on our list, the Flavian Amphitheatre, or the Colosseum, and, because we are smart and have purchased our tickets at the Palatine Hill, we breeze past the tour hawkers and long, long line right inside.

Nothing quite prepares one for how vast the interior is, and walking in and out of the many arches, we can see a nice bit of the city.

Part of the wooden flooring was reconstructed for the 2000 Jubilee, but it is still possible to see the formerly hidden substructure.

Sarah tells us that the flooring was often reconstructed in antiquity, and trapdoors, which allowed animals to leap out were moved around to enhance the surprise for gladiator and audience alike.

There were also many species of plant life documented within the amphitheatre that originated in northern Africa, brought in by the thousands upon thousands of beasts killed within.

At last our tour is over, and we bid farewell to Richard and Regina. Sarah very kindly escorted us to Café Café, where we had a most excellent lunch (wonderful salads!) and I admired the sink in the bathroom, which looked for all the world like a baptistery!

We wandered back towards home, well sated, in search of a super-mercato, or supermarket, that Sarah had recommended. A walk up Via Torre Argentina didn't flush it out, but we pinned it down on the very next street and found plenty of goodies for breakfast and dinner.

Home at last: cool shower, yea!

Later: a night along the Tiber

Mother said "you choose" where we are to have supper, so we set out for Campo di Fiori via Piazza del Biscon. We forged on in search of quieter streets, through Piazza Farnese (setting up, apparently, for a rock concert) past the French Consulate and embassy, until we came to the Tiber, lined with great sycamore trees.

We walked over the Ponte Sisto, with its great round porthole, and into Trastevere, and it wasn't long before we were seated alfresco at Da Tony, with the gracious proprietor talking us into plates of tasty, if challenging, lobster spaghetti and salads of wild greens that were truly scrumptious, while we listened to accordion music and counted dogs -- both invoked by my mother mentioning same.

Digesting, we proceeded on to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, with spectacular mosaics above, and a fountain with a great basin dating back to Augustan times.

We stopped and bought some cards and a tiny marble pot at Marmi Line Gifts "since 1933" then paused for a time on the Ponte Garibaldo to fully appreciate the twilight on the river. We then walked along the Lungotevere dei Vallat back towards the Galleria Spada on Via dei Pettinari and Via Capo da Ferro, and so on to the doors of what now feels like home.

20 June 2003 

At the Palazzo Olivia

We are nicely installed in the Palazzo Olivia after an uneventful flight. The only thing that was remotely a drag was the loooonngg line at Sea-Tac airport to go through security, but even that was relatively painless, if a bit tedious.

There were 39 high school student ambassadors traveling on the plane from Kennedy Airport in NYC, bound for Rome. They were all clearly excited and happy to be going, curses to the one hyper kid who wouldn't stop talking; I'd gotten a fair amount of rest before he woke my mother and I talking to my seatmate, saying "gee everybody else is asleep." DOH

But enough of that, Rome lies open before us! It is very bright, sunny and hot -- the only downside to the Palazzo Olivia is no air-conditioning, but we'll get used to that I trust! Lots of cold showers otherwise....

Later...... and the sky is full of swifts, wheeling and peeping in the morning air.

I am on our living room balcony, looking out across the narrow Via dei Leutari (street of the lute makers) to the palazzo where Rossini composed "The Barber of Seville." The lute makers are gone, but the furniture-makers carry on in their memory: in the course of our day yesterday I saw bed frames, beautifully carved, in front of open workshops lining the street.

Mother and I soon ventured out into our neighbourhood yesterday: the medieval city surrounding Domitian's ancient circus: the Piazza Navona. Just around the corner are a few ristoranti, and we collected my stepfather for lunch at a wine bar called Cul de Sac, directly across from "Il Maestro Pasquino," who, true to his long history, still sports tracts and statements. The old fellow once stood in the circus where Piazza Navona now stands, and is thought to be Menelaus protecting the body of Achilles. We watched people read tracts while enjoying an excellent lunch, and my parents enjoyed a very fine bottle of wine indeed.

It was very muggy, and my stepfather went home for a nap after lunch, and later Mother allowed as how our planned orientation walk with Scala Reale was out for them.

I took off on my own and walked to the rendezvous point for the walk, which I found quite easily once I bothered to pay attention to the names of cross streets.

Together with two nice couples and our lovely guide, Jenny (amazing coincidence: while she's lived the past seven years in Rome, she's from Bainbridge Island) who was ever so capable, pointing out the place where the Ara Pacis was discovered, the medieval city plan (or lack thereof) and, best of all, Augustus' mausoleum, now sadly forgotten, surrounded by Mussolini's fascist buildings, but still mighty in its brick massiveness.

We walked along Via del Corso, once the beginning of the Via Flaminia, to Piazza del Popolo, where many visitors clustered in the shadow of the great obelisk, which once graced the Circus Maximus. This finger of shadow marked the end of our formal walk, and, after wishing everyone well, I made my now footsore way back home for a cold shower. The heat must be one of the cues to the number of thermae that once graced Rome during the principate!

Later, all dolled up in my basic black all-purpose travel dress, we wandered the narrow streets in search of supper, judiciously reading menus and examining the beauties of each alfresco tables, before deciding on our choice: Bramante, under large white umbrellas. We sat in lawn chairs that looked for all the world like curule chairs and ordered a fine repast: I had sage and ricotta-stuffed ravioli from the i primi column and they were absolutely wonderful!

We did a bit of strolling after dinner to the Campo di Fiori, now full of young Romans, peeking at more menus and checking out breakfast options.

In bed by 10, fully adjusted to local time, cheers for the anti-jet-lag-diet! Huzzah!
It was thrilling to spy ruins that I haven't seen in nearly 30 years -- after learning so much city history in the past seven years or so. May the gods bless Eden and Rory for creating SPQR!

18 June 2003 

The night before our flight to Rome....
Six months ago my son and I flew down to Eugene for a bit of a post-Saturnalia visit with my mother and stepfather. They picked us up at the aiport and took us out to lunch. Over a very fine meal indeed, Mother told John that "I'm thinking we're going to Rome this time," and I immediately blurted out, "you're not going without me!"

My son, fortunate enough to have had three trips with his grandparents either graciously allowed me this trip or, more likely, assumed that between my mother and I he wouldn't get a word in edgewise.

Six months later and a bit over 27 years since I last visited the Eternal City, tomorrow we shall begin our journey! By Friday I will once again see Rome, but this time (I hope) I will truly be able to appreciate the richness of her history.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Rome: there and back again 

Having had the (possible) good sense to keep a journal of the ten days I recently spent in Rome with my parents, I hope to transcribe them before my impressions are lost, or my own handwriting mystify me.

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